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What is disproportionate minority contact?

It's widely agreed that everyone does not fare equally in the justice system in part due to differences in race and ethnicity. That includes the juvenile justice system. There's even a name for it -- Disproportionate Minority Contact. In an effort to combat this problem and its impact on young people, the federal government requires states to measure DMC in their juvenile justice systems and to find ways to minimize it.

Unfortunately, Connecticut's juvenile justice system is no exception when it comes to DMC. Not only are more black and Hispanic young people in the system than whites, based on their population, but they also on average are punished more severely. They are more likely to be arrested for drug crimes and other violations of the law and tend to receive harsher punishments than white youth.

There's no evidence that young people of color commit a larger percentage of crimes or more severe ones than their white peers. However, the disparity exists for multiple reasons. Much of it is based on where they live (cities vs. suburbs) and family income. Kids of color are more likely to be written up or arrested for an infraction. They're also more likely to be put into the adult system.

In an effort to minimize DMC in our state, the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee has created a "Just Start" coalition of professionals including police officers, prosecutors, judges and public defenders. This panel, appointed by the governor, seeks to reduce and eventually eliminate DMC.

If the JJAC's goals are accomplished, not only do fewer young people end up in the juvenile justice system and the adult prison population, but the state saves money. All in all, it's a benefit to our communities and everyone in them if kids can stay in school and eventually become part of the workforce instead of making a detour into the prison system that can impact them for the rest of their lives.

Regardless of your race, ethnicity or income level, no one wants to see their child's future ruined by one mistake, such as a drug charge. Connecticut criminal defense attorneys can work to help mitigate the impact of criminal charges on a young person's life, education and future.

Source: Office of Policy and Management, "The Story of DMC in Connecticut," accessed Feb. 04, 2016

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